Awareness is a necessity, not a privilege.

Sabina - Chennai, India
Entered on February 28, 2008

I believe in taking awareness to new levels and never denying the right to knowledge.

The summer before my senior year I took upon a project with the AIDS Foundation of India, to bring a greater sense of cause and purpose into my life. I worked with a team of HIV/AIDS researchers and educational developers to educate children in Africa, the Middle East, South America and India about the disease.

I initially decided to interview my fellow high school students to improve the effectiveness of the program; however, the spectrum of knowledge didn’t seem broad enough. I therefore needed to spread these questionnaires to younger students- after all the program was designated towards different age levels. In order to formalize this, I approached the school authority: showing her the script of the program and presenting an explanation. Two weeks later I returned, confident she would approve and even consider incorporating standard facts into the school’s health curriculum. Much to my surprise, she replied with a blunt “No”, and went on to state that “As we are a school consisting of a variety of cultures, I feel this may be explicit, and may reveal too much to the students.” I was shocked. Yes, she had a valid point about the cultural aspect but I felt that living in India, with the exponential growth of AIDS victims, she could have at least attempted to educate the children on a basic level of awareness. As ‘American International School’ students, we were already encased within our own bubble. By denying students the right to basic AIDS awareness, the school was only increasing levels of ignorance and thickening the walls of that bubble. The existing health program mentions nothing of the disease and sex education is non-existent at the middle school level. Teachers seemed to have deluded themselves to believe that children between the ages of 11-14 require no knowledge in regards to sex, or that’s what I was told when speaking to the health teacher.

A cautious approach in a diverse international school setting is acceptable and appropriate, yet taking censorship to a level where valid information is denied, is wrong. I was torn. I was so anxious to take my program further and to value people’s input and comments, yet at the same time I was wary to defy authority. I am the type of person who stands for what she believes in, and I fought. Yet after a few weeks of appealing to different teachers, I had to accept that the power of authority had prevailed. This experience ironically opened my eyes beyond anything I had learned in a classroom. I had the courage to fight for the educational value of the HIV/AIDS program, but in the face of this resistance, I was unable to achieve my goals.

Awareness is a necessity, not a privilege.